Retired Elizabeth, N.J. Fire Chief William Neafsey thought he was only suffering from a bad hip and back pain when he went to the doctor’s for an MRI in November.
What his doctor found was a lot worse.
Neafsey, 66, had a baseball-sized abdominal aortic aneurysm that one surgeon says could have killed him.
“It was really a miracle they found it,” Neafsey told FOXNews.com Thursday, speaking about the aneurysm for the first time. “They were X-raying my back and the surgeon said I think we should wait on your back, I don’t like the look of that aneurysm.”
Trinitas Hospital Surgeon Jung-Tsung Tsai said the discovery was a lucky one for Neafsey.
“The aneurysm would have continued to expand to the point of where it would have ruptured,” Tsai said. “Fifteen-thousand people die each year from aortic aneurysm. Most die within a half hour to an hour of it rupturing. They never make it to the emergency room. Even in the emergency room, 50 percent die.”
An aortic aneurysm is a weakened and bulging area in the aorta. Because the aorta, which is about the thickness of a garden hose, is the body's predominant supplier of blood, a ruptured aortic aneurysm can cause life-threatening bleeding, according to information provided by Trinitas Hospital.
Tsai said most aortic aneurysms are 4.5 centimeters or smaller, Neafsey's was 6 centimeters or about two-and-a-half inches — the size of a baseball.
Smokers and men who are obese or have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or a genetic predisposition are most at risk. Although some people may experience abdominal or back pain due to an aortic aneurysm, Neafsey said he had no symptoms and that it is believed his back pain stemmed from a hip injury.
Three days later after the aneurysm’s discovery, Neafsey underwent surgery, which involved placing a stent in his aorta to prevent the aneurysm from expanding and bursting, said Tsai.
The surgery involves inserting small, hollow catheters into the groin. The stent is sent through a catheter, and permanently placed into the artery, Tsai said.
Neafsey said he was up and around the next day, and released from the hospital several days later. He was told to abstain from strenuous activities immediately following surgery.
“I had to have CT scan done January to make sure the stent didn’t move,” he said.
“And the doctor told me no bowling, no golf and no ballroom dancing for two months, which was disappointing because I love ballroom dancing,” he joked.
Tsai said Neafsey will have to continue getting regular to scans to ensure the stents stay in place.